Mass transit fantasyland

If economic forecasts going out as little as 12 months are more than a little iffy, what about an economic impact study that covers 30 years? That's what the L.A. Economic Development Corp. is up to with a new report on the potential benefits of Measure R-related transportation projects. (Measure R was approved by voters in 2008 and raises the county sales tax by half a cent over the next 30 years.) Between 2009 and 2038, according to the study, 500,000 jobs would be created (roughly 17,000 a year). Total economic impact would be almost $35 billion.

I suppose these kinds of reports have to get done, but with due respect to the authors they don't mean a heck of a lot. Anyone who has gone through the hurdles of a major public works project - even ones far smaller than this monster - realize that the eventual costs are always higher, the schedule is always longer, and the economic impact is always more ambiguous. Of course, you can put any supposition into a computer model and get whatever number you want. Hey, why not make it a 60-year project? That way, we could create an even one million jobs. The mayor wants to take some of those 30-year projects and get them done in 10 years. Sure, why not? I understand hallucinogenics are back in style and what better mind-altering experience than the prospect of government being able to handle a project of such size and complexity? Must we be reminded that the city can't even handle a squabble over a paltry $73 million?

The mayor's 30/10 plan is not only foolishly ambitious, but takes attention away from the many small-scale projects that might actually offer traffic relief before many of us can no longer drive. But who wants to run the risk of alienating your constituency by doing something with real-time impact? Much better to toss off pie-in-the-sky plans - especially the ones with big job numbers - that have no chance in hell of succeeding and that will require one of your successors to clean up.

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
The multi-talented Mark Lacter
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